United States v. Sampson

Decision Date20 October 2011
Docket NumberCr. No. 01–10384–MLW.
Citation820 F.Supp.2d 151
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, v. Gary Lee SAMPSON.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts


George W. Vien, Donnelly, Conroy & Gelhaar, LLP, John A. Wortmann, Jr., Mark T. Quinlivan, Zachary R. Hafer, United States Attorney's Office, Boston, MA, for Plaintiff.

William E. McDaniels, Williams & Connolly, LLP, Jennifer G. Wicht, Thomas P. Windom, Williams & Connolly LLP, Washington, DC, Elizabeth L. Prevett, J. Martin Richey, Federal Public Defender Office, Boston, MA, for Defendant.


WOLF, District Judge.

The attached version of the October 20, 2011 Memorandum and Order on Jury Claim is being filed for the public record. In order to strike the appropriate balance between personal privacy interests, see In re Globe Newspaper Company, 920 F.2d 88, 95 (1st Cir.1990), and transparency concerning the reasons for judicial decisions, it replaces the names of jurors and third-parties with initials, and includes minor redactions concerning particularly sensitive information regarding third-parties. An unredacted form of the Memorandum and Order on Jury Claim that includes the names of the jurors and third-parties is being filed under seal and provided to the parties.


On July 24, 2001, Gary Lee Sampson murdered Philip McCloskey and attempted to steal his car. On July 27, 2001, Sampson murdered Jonathan Rizzo and stole his car. Then, on July 30, 2001, in New Hampshire, Sampson murdered Robert Whitney and later took his car as well. On July 31, 2001, William Gregory picked up Sampson who was hitchhiking in Vermont. Gregory escaped Sampson's attack on him. Soon after, Sampson called 911 and surrendered to the Vermont State Police. Sampson quickly confessed to the murders of McCloskey, Rizzo, and Whitney.

In October, 2001, Sampson was charged in this federal court with two counts of carjacking resulting in the deaths of McCloskey and Rizzo, respectively. As permitted but not required by the Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994, 18 U.S.C. § 3591 et seq., the government decided to seek the death penalty.

Sampson pled guilty to the charges against him. Pursuant to the legal requirements established by the Supreme Court and codified in the Federal Death Penalty Act, a trial was nevertheless required to permit a jury to determine whether Sampson should be executed.

Under the Sixth Amendment, every defendant in a criminal case has a constitutional right to be tried by an impartial jury. U.S. Const. Amend. VI. An impartial jury is a “touchstone of a fair trial” and has been defined as a “jury capable and willing to decide the case solely on the evidence before it.” McDonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548, 554, 104 S.Ct. 845, 78 L.Ed.2d 663 (1984) (internal quotation omitted). Therefore, to qualify as an impartial juror an individual must not have views or personal experiences that will prevent or substantially impair his or her ability to decide a matter based solely on the evidence.

In the conventional criminal case in which the jury is asked to decide unanimously only whether guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the existence of even a single partial person on the jury requires a new trial. In a Federal Death Penalty Act case it is particularly important that each and every juror be able to decide the case based solely on the evidence and, therefore, be impartial. The Supreme Court has held that: “the penalty of death is qualitatively different from a sentence of imprisonment, however long.... Because of that qualitative difference, there is a corresponding difference in the need for reliability in the determination that death is the appropriate punishment in a specific case.” Woodson v. North Carolina, 428 U.S. 280, 305, 96 S.Ct. 2978, 49 L.Ed.2d 944 (1976) (plurality opinion). To implement this principle, the Federal Death Penalty Act provides that if even one juror does not find the death penalty to be justified the defendant may not be executed. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 3593, 3594; Jones v. United States, 527 U.S. 373, 380–81, 119 S.Ct. 2090, 144 L.Ed.2d 370 (1999). Therefore, each juror has the power to decide that a defendant will live rather than die. Each juror must be able to make that decision based solely on the evidence, uninfluenced by personal experiences that he or she may have had. The Supreme Court has held that if even one member of a jury that has sentenced a defendant to death was not impartial, that sentence must be vacated. See Morgan v. Illinois, 504 U.S. 719, 729, 112 S.Ct. 2222, 119 L.Ed.2d 492 (1992).

At trial, the court and the parties made an extensive effort to assure that each and every juror in this case would be able to decide whether Sampson should be sentenced to death based solely on the evidence. Hundreds of potential jurors were required to answer in writing, under oath, seventy-seven questions designed to elicit information concerning any possible bias or prejudice that the potential juror recognized and was willing to reveal, and also to elicit information concerning life experiences that might subconsciously injure an individual's ability to decide Sampson's case based solely on the evidence. Many potential jurors were excused based on their written responses alone. Many other jurors were questioned individually, again under oath, to determine whether they could decide whether Sampson should live or die based solely on the evidence and were, therefore, eligible to serve as jurors in his case. The jury selection process lasted seventeen days.

The court recognized that the written and oral questioning would involve matters a potential juror might regard as private and sensitive. Therefore, the potential jurors were told that, upon request, the questioning and their responses on such sensitive subjects would not be made part of the public record. They were also repeatedly told, however, that it was essential that they answer every question honestly and accurately.

During weeks of individual questioning, potential jurors were excused for cause for a range of conventional reasons. Some were excused because of pretrial exposure to information about the case or because of the existence of attitudes they acknowledged that raised serious questions about their ability to be impartial. Other potential jurors were excused for cause because they had emotional life experiences that were comparable to matters that would be presented in Sampson's case and created a serious risk that they would not be able to decide whether the death penalty should be imposed based solely on the evidence. In addition, potential jurors were excused when it was discovered that they had responded to written or oral questions dishonestly.

Eventually, twelve deliberating jurors, including C, and six alternates were empaneled. During the trial, two jurors were excused when it was discovered they had answered voir dire questions dishonestly.

At trial, the jurors heard evidence of, among other things: the manner in which Sampson murdered McCloskey, Rizzo, and Whitney, and the fear his victims undoubtedly experienced; Sampson's threats to shoot female bank tellers in the course of robberies; Sampson's substance abuse and the fact that one of his marriages ended because of it; Sampson's experiences in prison; and Sampson's parents' refusal to speak to his attorneys. Ultimately, the jury unanimously decided that Sampson should be executed for the murders of McCloskey and Rizzo.

The court subsequently denied motions to question jurors about their verdict and for a new trial. In January, 2004, it sentenced Sampson to be executed. The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the death sentence. The Supreme Court declined to review the case.

As required by the Federal Death Penalty Act, this court then appointed new counsel for post-conviction proceedings. In May, 2009, Sampson filed a motion for a new trial pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 (“the § 2255 Motion), alleging that his constitutional rights had been violated. Among other things, Sampson alleged that he had been deprived of his right to have his sentence decided by an impartial jury. This contention was based on evidence developed by Sampson's new counsel that three jurors, including C, had answered voir dire questions inaccurately. Sampson also argued that their inaccurate answers deprived him of his right to exercise his peremptory challenges on a properly informed basis.

Because material facts were in dispute, in November, 2010, the court conducted a hearing in which the three jurors were required to testify concerning their inaccurate responses to voir dire questions. The court finds that two of these jurors made unintentional errors in responding to voir dire questions and that Sampson is not entitled to a new trial because of those errors.

However, as explained in detail in this Memorandum, the court also finds that C intentionally and repeatedly answered a series of questions dishonestly in an effort to avoid disclosing or discussing painful experiences she had endured concerning her daughter J and her former husband P. Her dishonesty began when she filled out her questionnaire in September, 2003, continued when she returned for individual voir dire in October, 2003, and was repeated when she was required to testify in these § 2255 proceedings.

More specifically, C intentionally lied during the jury selection process in response to questions that should have elicited the facts that: in 2000 her husband P had a rifle or shotgun and threatened to shoot her; C had feared that P would kill her; as a result, C obtained an Abuse Prevention Order against P; P was later arrested in her presence and prosecuted for violating that Order; C's marriage to P ended because of his substance abuse; J also had a drug problem; and J's drug abuse resulted in her serving time in prison, where C visited her. As information concerning these...

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    ...prove that a juror was not ‘capable and willing to decide the case solely on the evidence before [him].’ " United States v. Sampson , 820 F. Supp. 2d 151, 163 (D. Mass. 2011) (alteration in original) (quoting McDonough Power Equip., Inc. v. Greenwood , 464 U.S. 548, 554, 104 S.Ct. 845, 78 L......
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    ...court concluded that it was compelled to vacate Sampson's death sentence because of misconduct by a juror. See United States v. Sampson, 820 F. Supp. 2d 151 (D. Mass. 2011). Over Sampson's objection, the court subsequently exercised its discretion to authorize an immediate appeal of that de......
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1 books & journal articles
  • VIII. Challenging Jurors
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